Janey Smith is writer of The Snow Poems and Animals. She is editor at Metazen.
Janey Smith is writer of The Snow Poems and Animals. She is editor at Metazen.
John Rogers is a writer living in Iceland. He also edits the new internet-borne art, music, literature & culture website Heartcloud. His image macros and written work have appeared in places like Metazen, Pop Serial, Alternative Literature, Microscenes, Gayng, Bad Robot, Have U Seen My Whale and Internet Poetry; hIs artwork has been shown/performed in places like Ikon Gallery, This Is A Magazine, The Centre of Attention, Fierce! Festival and D.U.M.B.O. Festival, supported by Arts Council England. John’s first book, Real Life, will be available on Habitat Books but you may pre-order it here.
Michael Hessel-Mial studies poetry and cybernetics at Emory University. He also edits Internet Poetry. His ebook, VITA NUOVA II, is forthcoming from klaus_ebooks, and his macro series ‘tweets like a lovebird,’ part of his longer project, ‘greatest poet alive,’ is forthcoming from Pop Serial.
Michael Hessel-Mial reports on John Rogers new book, Real Life:
moss, moss, clambake, moss,
the above is a quote from Real Life by john rogers. i encountered these words as a macro submission to Internet Poetry. i experienced it with uncertainty, in the sense that it was beautiful but unclear as to what it meant. i have experienced john’s writing in two ways – as impossibly large beautiful ambitious incredible works (like his collab with ashley obscura, oh, inverted universe) and as slightly terse, cryptic statements like these. another is “keep yr heart in the cloud,” which i saw as an image macro featuring a heart emerging from a nebula.
pretty sure that a lot of the content from heiko julien’s I Am Ready To Die A Violent Death originated on twitter, though catalog and facebook. i don’t mean in the sense that it is ‘just’ an amalgamation of pre-existing content, but that key lines/tropes were maybe ‘battle-tested’ there. i read that book ‘as a book,’ but i also think of words like ‘fractal’ / ‘modular’ when i think of its composition.
Real Life was composed on a combination of iPad and laptop. it combines very terse, one-line or ‘single-utterance’ statements in poetry form, with long descriptive chapters comprised of detailed declarative sentences. when i read “moss / moss / clambake / moss” in this context i saw how these were functioning as ‘tokens’ of memory units, or ‘deep, underlying pathways’ of the inner logic of the book. i started getting excited when i realized this.
i started interacting with john rogers near the end of 2012
i read oh, inverted universe and was thinking that it was hands down my favorite alt lit thing i’d read
i think one time steve roggenbuck and i were talking about “John Brnlv Rogers” and laughing a little bit because steve thought it meant “barnlove” at first, but it’s actually because john rogers runs Brainlove Records
john rogers is an indie music mogul
along with being active in internet literature circles, he is also a mogul, nice
john has listed himself as a ‘regular contributor’ to Internet Poetry
is Internet Poetry the Poetry Magazine of the internet????
john said some really nice things to me around christmas 2012 and i’ve been trying to live up to them ever since
the time period that Real Life documents involves john rogers moving to iceland, and being in a relationship with somebody who i also know and feel a kinship with. both of these major life moments were documented on facebook. Real Life describes both but allows the structure of memory to scramble time – the poetry passages serve as a narrative glue that fuses emotion and memory in a kind of alternative space defined by emotions and memories. this space makes the intensely descriptive prose passages ‘saturated’ with light and intimacy. the move to iceland is described more explicitly, while the relationship is left deliberately unstated, assumed.
iceland is a cold volcanic island, whose lava and moss become the physical links to the abstracted form they take in memory. iceland was the space for certain relationships, and also serves ‘in advance’ as a place where the pain of its transience can be accepted.
john makes me feel good about iceland, in spite of my understanding of it being confused by stories of ‘prankster’ vikings naming it wrong on purpose (i don’t think this is completely true)
70% of john’s snapchats are of his cat
my cat, mia (longhair, black fur, ~6yo) is sitting in my lap as i write this, curled in a circular shape
“I wonder what it says about me psychologically that I am squeezing myself into the smallest possible amount of space so as not to touch anyone around me despite being basically full to bursting with love and irritation re: every single person.”
john rogers wrote this, it’s in his book, Real Life
Real Life is sensual and intimate in its descriptions of john’s activities. it is mostly in ‘non-sensational’ ways, like things john eats or drinks, or the small chance interactions he has with others, as a result of being alive in ‘real life.’ these interactions are with people on trains, or with parents, or with people in service industries, and john notices the small smiles or gestures we do everyday, simultaneously out of commitment to social routine but also as a simple affirmation of the other person’s existence. i’d say that john is attuned to those specific kernels that connect us with different people.
as i write this, i want to conclude or explain different points by recourse to the title – “you know, real life?” “because its, like the title, real life” “real life, uh”
i think when i get the physical copy of this book i’m going to hold it, arms outstretched, and maybe say “real life” to myself several times.
Real Life was written by john rogers and edited by stephen michael mcdowell
the first time i tried an e-cig it was stephen’s
stephen is a writer that at least 2 people, including myself, have characterized as seeming ‘strongly influenced by tao lin’
this is largely false, in that i have increasingly come to see stephen’s writing as building on tao lin’s in exciting and important ways
tao lin’s influence is ‘heavy as fuck’
way way long ago, back in the 20th century a lot of people thought about the linearity of literary writing, especially how prose is structured to the printing press format in ways that
i would say that this was influenced by marshall mcluhan’s description of the printing press as compressed/unidimensional compared to the appearance of radio and television, jean-paul sartre’s critique of serial forms of social organization, and the ways that post-structuralism [something about jacques derrida and roland barthes].
in the 70s and 80s fiction writers embraced complex recursive metanarrative forms and poets like ron silliman and lyn hejinian pushed serial structures to their limits by including features that resisted it – disconnected observations that interrupt the temporal sequence that linear writing imposes
this is probably wrong, but i have intuited that the tao lin narrative style, which i have felt to be doing something unique and important as a development of prose writing, is building on a sense of the inadequacy of inherited forms of narrative presentation. there is something in minimal, declarative presentation that can capture the different descriptive and reflective levels at which we experience reality.
in general the literary and theoretical avant-garde are good at imagining new ways of writing, even if the ways themselves haven’t always seemed successful (most of them are, but i think of how my teachers talked about hyperfiction)
i think the problem is that linear writing became, as in other marx-inflected readings of media, something to be dialectically resisted, which IMHFO is the worst way of doing things because it assumes in advance a system that cannot be escaped.
*bangs head against the wall*
*bangs head against the wall*
*bangs head against the wall*
*does cartwheel and turns into a butterfly*
john rogers i feel is moving in a unique direction by taking honest/direct minimal prose writing and putting it into a different kind of narrative structure, where a lot of weight falls onto a poetic space, organizing the prose passages, even if most of what we remember from the book is from the more ‘episodic’ moments.
i feel like, ideally, writing is organized like fractals, or ‘the cloud’ – in the ‘big data’ sense where meaningful objects are held in an idealized space of absolute potential for retrieval, where the immanent relations between the objects ‘as objects’ are probabilistic combinatoric potential, alongside a field of other potential relations generated by abstract programs
the cloud being our potential for love, through the lens of big data
the question being, how do we produce longer, more ambitious works, in ways that better approach how we experience writing
writing, especially when it is linear, is a program that generates the work from the cloud
the cloud being all of culture, including our social media presence
we can write in a way that effectively presents ourselves in a way that is fractal, hypertextual, ‘born and raised’ in the cloud
the longer books we write, i predict, will have increasingly elliptical structures while getting increasingly accessible and enjoyable, like we’re finding ‘the narrative framework of the future’
Real Life often feels like a very disciplined risk, in the sense that it exposes thought processes that could read poorly if not put in the right scope – john often takes risks in being direct or honest, and here it pays off, john ‘shoots straight’
i’ve been deciding how much i want to compare this to tao lin, it feels sensitive because i want to suggest that john rogers is pushing the tao lin narrative style in a new and important direction without making tao lin seem bad or wrong
Real Life has the influence of tao lin’s prose narratives, and i think Real Life is ‘on the same team’ as I Am Ready To Die A Violent Death in that they are able to feel consistently edgy and exciting, current as well as adapted to their particular worldview
the difference, i think, is that john’s direct/declarative sentences are an altogether different phenomenology where human relationships are necessarily fraught/doomed, trapped within their view of the world
i think a lot about edmund husserl and the ‘life world,’ which i understand as the intuitive/physical sense of existing in a shared social space, that living with others gives off as a kind of ‘atmosphere’
tao lin’s characters are sympathetic, rich, meaningful, relatable, but they are also always isolated, have relationships only as a kind of mirroring of one another
john’s characters are not simple, but they also have the added benefit of existing in this space, which makes what they do have a kind of light surrounding them
they are saturated with the atmosphere of shared space, and it allows for stories to surface in Real Life without ever being told
both john and i have a way of approaching the internet and social media as having a utopian character – the internet brings out a side of our relationships with others and our understanding of the world that can influence writing. part of the excitement of this writing is being able to declare it. even though Real Life is much more a personal statement than john’s other larger ‘vision statements,’ it teaches a lot in this capacity. john rogers is ~12 years older than me and has a capacity for wonder that gets me excited.
i wonder about john’s ‘choice’ not to call it In Real Life
i think maybe it’s because ‘in real life’ implies that real life is something you go ‘in’ after being ‘out’ of on a computer
that the book is meant to ~*be*` real life, present it, give it, etc …
but real life is also plugged in, and maybe being internet structures how you see real life in ways that allow something as beautiful as Real Life
john’s so fucking internet i love it :) :) :) :)
sign my petition to end the use of the phrase ‘in real life’ and all of its related names (IRL, and, uh…)
Janey Smith is @janeysmithkills
Michael Hessel-Mial is @mikehesselmial
John Rogers is @brainlove
Paisley Rekdal got two Facebook messages last January from fellow poets who had some disturbing news: a poet in England by the name of Christian Ward had taken an old poem of hers and published it, barely altered, as his own. Her first reaction was to wonder if it was some kind of experiment. Perhaps by changing the gender of the author of a poem about infidelity and infertility, he was teasing out new meanings?
Then she saw the “new” poem, with its new line breaks and minor but grating word changes. It was obviously a work of deception, not conceptual play. “That’s the thing that enraged me,” she said recently. “If he had just plagiarized the poem and published under his name, I would have been less annoyed. When I saw he wanted to take part in something I had done myself and claim it as his own, I felt kind of violated.”
Rekdal, who responded to Ward with a righteously angry blog post (and later a more melancholy one), is not the only one feeling violated these days. The poetry world experienced something of a plagiarism epidemic last year. CJ Allen withdrew from the shortlist of England’s Forward Prize in September when it was revealed that he had plagiarized some of his past work. Australian poet Andrew Slattery was stripped of three prizes when it turned out he had cribbed from Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath, among others. When caught, he claimed the poems were written in the cento form, in which each line is pulled from another source; he also called his work “a cynical experiment.”
The list goes on: British poet David R. Morgan admitted last spring that many of his poems, stretching back to at least the 1980s, had been plagiarized. Rekdal’s perpetrator turned out to have stolen from several other poets, including Helen Mort and Sandra Beasley. Graham Nunn, longtime organizer of a major Australian poetry festival, was accused last September of at least eight instances of plagiarism, which he defended in part as “sampling”; on his blog, he wrote that “[r]eading and listening to music are a vital part of my process” and that “parts of the original text are creatively appropriated in the formation of a new work.” These are all published, and often prize-winning, poets—they are not students or amateurs. Why did 2013 become the year of the plagiarists?
Writing is a dance that involves imitation, inspiration, and originality. But all things considered, writerly disapproval of plagiarism has remained remarkably consistent over the centuries—really, even over millennia. The Roman poet Martial accused his rival Fidentinus, whom he called a “miscreant magpie”: “My books need no one to accuse or judge you: the page which is yours stands up against you and says, ‘You are a thief.’” Martial was particularly galled that Fidentinus had mixed in his own inferior work with Martial’s original material. Yes, approaches to borrowing and attribution have shifted over time, but wholesale copying has never been kosher.
T.S. Eliot, who relied on other sources for much of “The Waste Land” (plagiarism or allusion?), famously wrote, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” Less often quoted is the next line, “Bad poets deface what they take.” This is what seems to gall many victims of plagiarists: to see their poems reprinted in weaker versions than the original.
Ruth Ellen Kocher, a Colorado-based poet and professor, recently learned that her 2004 poem “Issues Involving Interpretation” had been plagiarized online by an Australian named Vuong Pham. Pham kept her line breaks intact but changed a few words and added some new lines. “When he stole my work, he didn’t make it better,” Kocher said. “If my work was going to be taken and pilfered in that way, I would have loved to see it undergo a transformation and evolution.” Instead, she said, it reminded her of a “reverse revision”: his small changes actually made the poem worse.
Since the 19th century, when the Romantics embraced what Marilyn Randall, a professor of French studies at the University of Western Ontario and the author of a 2001 book on literary plagiarism, calls the “authentic poetic soul,” borrowing has become even more cemented as a literary crime. (Rekdal refers to her plagiarist as a Romantic, because “he was trying to tie his own imagination to the poem and claim it.”) Even in our age of collage and appropriation and “intertextuality,” it’s only at the extreme edges of such experimentation that you’ll find even mild defenses of outright plagiarism.
Despite the fact that plagiarism has always been taboo, readers are often more forgiving of historical offenses. As Thomas Mallon puts it in his insightful 1989 book on plagiarism, “Stolen Words,” “Everyone enjoys a good scandal in the present…. What we seem far less able to endure is that plaster cast falling from the library shelf: Its shattering somehow bothers us more than the live body going off the cliff.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for example, was an inveterate thief, but he remains firmly in the canon. Hart Crane borrowed heavily from a lesser-known poet named Samuel Greenberg, most notably in his early poem “Emblems of Conduct.” (“No doubt he meant to acknowledge his debt,” James Laughlin wrote in 1939. “It simply slipped his mind.”)
More recently, the British conceptual poet Ira Lightman, who was behind many of last year’s revelations, got involved simply because he didn’t see anyone else doing it. “The poetry world is genteel,” he said. “People don’t like to make any kind of stir.” Lightman has taken it upon himself to comb through suspect work, alert the victims, and publicize his findings.
But even Lightman, who spent untold hours last year ferreting out violators, doesn’t want to banish them indefinitely. “I don’t see them all as these sinister, plotting, Machiavellian characters,” he said. “I see it as a corruption. And we’re all vulnerable to corruption.” He suggests that transgressors retreat to self-publishing for a few years, prove themselves honest, and then return to the fold.
If plagiarists are not sinister and Machiavellian, then why do they do it? This question gets asked every time there’s a fresh revelation of plagiarism, whether it’s in the literary world, journalism, or academia. There’s never a satisfying answer, but there are at least lots of guesses, often somewhat at odds with each other: laziness or panic, narcissism or low self-esteem, ambition or deliberate self-sabotage.
In poetry, at least, everyone agrees it’s not about the money. “One of the hardest things is that the stakes in poetry are not very high,” Kocher said. “I’m not a rocket scientist. I’m not going to cure cancer with one of my poems. I don’t get paid an extraordinary amount of money, and I don’t have any great notoriety outside of the writing community. So to take something that most people engage in as an act of joy and sully it this way—it just seems one of the most egregious offenses.”
But does anyone write just for the money? Laurence Sterne, the plagiarist author of Tristram Shandy, said he wrote “not to be fed but to be famous.” Now, of course, he is. It worked.
The Internet has made both plagiarism itself and its detection much easier for everyone. But the major cases that came up in 2013 have all concerned British and Australian poets, often, but not always, cribbing from American ones. Despite some speculation that our national character makes us less likely to plagiarize—Americans are obsessively respectful of private property! American egos are too big to rely on other people’s work!—there’s also the possibility that Americans have simply been lucky enough to not be caught in the current dragnet.
For one, the primary detective is British, more familiar with the Commonwealth scene than the American one. And it’s not as if Americans haven’t been caught in the past. An Iowa poet named Neal Bowers, a former editor of Poet and Critic magazine, wrote a 1997 book about tracking down the Illinois elementary school teacher who published work copied from Bowers in 13 journals over the course of a few years. “It’s a very uneasy feeling,” Bowers told the New York Times at the time, “a bit like having a stalker.”
The gut reactions of the plagiarized are hard to predict. The poet and essayist H.L. Hix, for example, found out in October that his work had been lifted by Graham Nunn in an Australian anthology of love poems. He said his first reaction to getting the news from Lightman was sheer surprise: “As a poet one gets used to being completely ignored.”
Some victims feel moved to reach out the perpetrators. Kocher sent a note to Pham through Facebook after he posted a brief apology, which has since been removed, on his blog. She hasn’t heard back. (Pham has defended himself by saying he was simply naive and not taught about proper attribution; he also recently wrote that he has become a victim of cyberbullying.)
After Paisley Rekdal posted her open letter to Christian Ward on her blog, she also asked online for an apology from him. She got one: a one-sentence email that she recalls as something to the effect of “I’m sorry, I’m not this kind of person.” It’s the kind of open, vacuous statement that could make you hate someone, or feel sorry for them, or both at once. “He gave me what I asked for,” she said, “but he gave me no more than what I asked for.”
Is there such a thing as a resolution to a plagiarism story? Plagiarism isn’t a crime, there’s no universally accepted punishment for it, and the perfect expression of contrition may never come. Hix, for his part, says he has no plans to get in touch with Graham Nunn. “These were love poems that are being stolen,” he said. “I don’t have any more interest in speaking with Mr. Nunn than I would with the person who had broken into my house and stolen my property.”
Janey Smith is a writer in San Francisco.
When a new literary arts magazine comes along, it’s always a reason to celebrate. Jos Charles, Emerson Whitney, and Jamila Cornick have put together a critically ambivalent, aesthetically smart online magazine THEM (soon to be in print) that promotes the *trans values in us all, and it is awesome.
Stephen Michael McDowell, a writer loosely associated with the Alt Lit scene (as is Jos Charles), gives a 25-point report on Jos Charles’s new project THEM, Issue One, which was published online today (link provided below):
1. I have a very low tolerance for cold, and often cite any setting below 75 degrees Fahrenheit as potential “jacket weather”.
2. Despite widespread public knowledge of racially polar male and female authors and poets [something about me not being able to think of any openly queer or racially unspecific authors and poets, especially given] my experience.
3. Something about how modern dress does not preclude a person from being a person but can prevent a person from being informed of different genitals which can prevent a person being aware that different genitals exist.
4. Focusing on queer or trans* identity as a central theme in literature vs. focusing on economics as a central theme in literature vs. focusing on writing about writing as a central theme in literature vs. focusing on nothing in general as a central theme in literature.
5. In THEM Issue One the assigned gender of each contributor in this journal is shrouded in a way that, regardless of the piece’s overall focus, seems to render every character, voice, feeling, and basis for confusion “human” in a way that I like.
6. I developed pneumonia the week my junior high school P.E. class started practicing lacrosse. I was relieved I wouldn’t have to compete against people in lacrosse, but practiced at home in my bedroom because I liked the mechanics of the instruments that were used in the game. I felt profound disappointment when I got back two weeks later and they had moved on to volleyball.
7. In a climate where terms like “Experimental” and “Standard Procedure” seem wildly vague and frequently interchangeable it seems like enthusiasm and maybe “Recognizably Subversive” work are what readers’ readers are looking for to share with there friends. In this search, almost as if by accident, the still peripheral outpourings of the disenfranchised but not unfamiliar seem to easily go overlooked. I don’t know why this is, maybe something about quality, maybe something about affect and guilt, but this collection touches on a lot of subjects without intentionally straying from the easy-to-parse, which I think may give this publication a chance in the realm of alternative/internet literature at least.
8. I feel rigidly aware I’m writing in a mode I’m uncomfortable with because it seems like people are more receptive when I write this way.
9. This is a large collection (~100 pages of text). If I were approached and asked by a friend which pieces of this they should read, I would reluctantly point out one co-authored by a writer I’ve published, maybe three or four more besides, but the experience of reading this collection dans complètement left me on the brink of tears in a sort of dizzying empathy. So maybe just read all of it.
““Trans*” is an umbrella term meant to include not just transgender identities, but any person who does not exclusively identify as the gender assigned at their birth. This often includes genderqueer, bigender, agender, genderfuck, and other gender-variant identities. Like with any umbrella term, the only way to know if “trans*” applies to someone is if they apply it to themselves.
THEM uses the word “trans*” in an attempt to make room in the old, reconcile, carve, and begin from where we can. That is to say “trans*” is not perfect and without limits; THEM adopts it as a strategy—contingently and consciously. If a more suitable term, less grounded in binarist western identity-politics emerges, THEM will be happy to abandon “trans*” and utilize another.
THEM is not the gender police. Authors and artists herein may not identify with “trans*” as a term, i.e. folks with cultural gender identities who reject its use. Likewise not all writing herein may be considered “trans* writing.” THEM is willingly confused by what does or doesn’t pass as trans* writing. THEM is critically ambivalent. THEM is happy to present conflicting manifestos.”
11. In my immediate family there is a constant struggle to reconcile racial and gender identity. One of my siblings has been in a long-term relationship with someone outside our family’s designated race and has seemed openly conscious of and tormented by this, despite the degree to which they seem compatible. Another sibling is in a “homosexual relationship” and hasn’t told our extended family, though they never attend family events without their partner. After nearly a decade of engaging exclusively in relationships with people of one racial designation, I recently started seeing people in other races and with non-conforming gender identities and have felt less confused by my impulses and more aware of what other people consider when looking for partners, and have felt the experience to be constantly epiphanic. Reading this journal has enhanced that feeling of epiphany for me, I feel.
12. Something I thought upon initially embarking on reading “THEM” was that the formatting and layout seemed lit-journal-typical in a way that made me uncomfortable. The discomfort, I realized, was grounded in my own tendency to try to design things contrary to how culturally normative magazines and journals have appeared in my experience. After thinking more about this, I realized the editors may have been trying to make the journal seem attractive to a wider audience than people who, in my mind, stereotypically fit into a “punk” aesthetic, due to that subculture appearing more welcoming to openly trans* people. I’m not sure what it is that I intuitively generalized but I don’t like it and think #10 renders it in a much higher resolution than my brain is willing to parse.
13. I’ve never had gay sex, whatever that means. Maybe I have. Whoa.
14. I didn’t know there was a trans flag. Now I do. http://castrobiscuit.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/trans-pride-flag.gif
15. Having a very difficult time coming up with 25 points. Earnestly considering flaking on all y’all tbqh.
16. Thought “LGTBQH” and kind of twisted my spine in an attempt to express a seemingly nondescript, possibly never before previously experienced emotion I could attempt to convey as “weakly entertained in a self-loathing humorous manner while very aware of growing feeling of hunger and mild pain in the testicles.”
17. I feel aversion, generally to political activism. To some degree, I embarked on a career in literature because novels and poems have the ability to transcend—or, more accurately, in my view, diverge from—approaching politically controversial topics and unite people. It seems sweet to me that there are authors and poets spending their time writing from politically aware standpoints, but with less an “agenda” than to express and explore, in a way that’s non-standard with regard to what, in my view, is typically viewed as “literature”
18. “Satyricon (or Satyrica) is a Latin work of fiction in a mixture of prose and poetry (prosimetrum). It is believed to have been written by Gaius Petronius, though the manuscript tradition identifies the author as a certain Titus Petronius. As with the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, classical scholars often describe it as a “Roman novel”, without necessarily implying continuity with the modern literary form.
“The surviving portions of the text detail the misadventures of the narrator, Encolpius, and his lover, a handsome sixteen-year-old boy named Giton. Throughout the novel, Encolpius has a hard time keeping his lover faithful to him as he is constantly being enticed away by others. Encolpius’s friend Ascyltus (who seems to have previously been in a relationship with Encolpius) is another major character.
“It is one of the two most extensive witnesses to the Roman novel, the only other being fully extant Metamorphoses of Apuleius, which is quite different in style and plot. Satyricon is also extremely important evidence for the reconstruction of what everyday life must have been like for the lower classes during the early Roman Empire.”
I found this article about three years ago when google searching “first novel”. [Something about it having been published in the first century A.D.] [Something about 2,000 years passing since its first publication] [Something about high-profile LGBTQ public figures gaining mainstream popularity on television and the internet]
19. I have a friend who dated a trans woman and stayed friends with her after they broke up. My friend told me that her friend began a long-term relationship with a man and still hasn’t told him she was once designated a boy because it just never came up in conversation.
21. Have, over the course of writing this, returned to the idea of “us vs. them” but haven’t yet come to any conclusions about it.
22. I’ve felt consistently averse to the idea of trying to “sell” this journal. I was asked to write this and am writing it because I was asked to and felt interested in writing something that would appear on HTMLGiant and would promote a more diverse range of potential for writing, in general.
23. I feel shitty for making this “meta” instead of feeling as though I was capable of coherently summarizing my thoughts, strictly, on the journal itself.
24. I think viewing this collection not as “queer/trans* literature” but as “literature” will be the most beneficial way of perceiving it, if the reader is capable of dissociating from the intention of the publication.
25. Thank you for reading this.
You may read THEM, Issue One, free and online here: http://issuu.com/themlit/docs/them_draft_1.docx
Last week I watched Nathan Staplegun eat salted peanuts on spreecast. What started off as Nathan eating salted peanuts soon turned into Nathan asking his roommates or friends (and thus turning the computer camera in their direction) what they were preparing in the kitchen, and quickly became a spreecast showing one of Nathan’s online friends playing guitar. On the surface, Nathan Staplegun eating salted peanuts on television (that’s what platforms such as spreecast are: do-it-yourself TV) would seem like a snooze, a no-brainer, an excuse to read more books. But, what Nathan did was really great. He put on TV a thing that he would have done anyway and by doing it on TV turned the act of eating salted peanuts into something else: an event, perhaps.
I love to tell the story of Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party. In 1978, Glenn O’Brien and friends (and his friends were people like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Amos Poe, Deborah Harry, Walter Steding, Chris Stein) got together and decided to take advantage of public access cable television in New York City. The format was simple: hang out with friends, get high (one episode had Fab Five Freddy in costume teaching viewers how to roll perfect joints), have your friends play music, and talk to people (viewers called in live while the show was on air and used their short time to make death threats and complain about how shitty the show was). By television’s standards, the TV Party shows were shitty, but they were fun to watch. And, in their own way, became increasingly popular (special guests included David Byrne, Klaus Nomi, and Mick Jones of The Clash) and influential (in one of his early top ten lists David Letterman cited TV Party as an influence). Art and everyday life will never be separate things; although, the art marketers sure seem to want us to believe that they are. Friends get together, record each other doing silly things, or someone we hardly know broadcasts himself washing dishes or whatever, and art’s possibility is renewed, if not, realized.
I have been kicking around the idea of starting a series of posts in which I cruise my facebook friends’ facebook photos and post the ones I like as part of ‘Creeper: Favorite Facebook Photos of My Facebook Friends’. The word ‘creep’ (and its variations) has not always had negative connotations. When Radiohead hit the pop charts in 1992 with their debut single “Creep” the song seemed like a strange, wonderful call to embrace the pathos of a loser, a lost subcultural weirdo whose dreams and desires are too much for himself and the world. Much like Beck’s “Loser” the song seemed to reinvigorate a long-standing yet dangerous tradition in the arts: the elevation of the low, the loser, the outsider, the emotional clown, to the status of cultural barometer, of artist. Long-standing because American cultural producers had carefully exploited this type for profit since the early days of white rock ‘n’ roll (Elvis Presley) and the first teen films (Rebel Without A Cause). Dangerous because sometimes people actually believed in these characterizations enough to begin to act like rebels, not satisfied with merely listening to them on the radio or watching them at the movies.
In 1969, Vito Acconci made art by simply following people around New York City. Acconci spotted someone on the street and followed them until they disappeared into a place he couldn’t, or didn’t, want to go. Acconci’s performance lasted almost a month. He’d get up, go outside, spot someone, and follow. Most spreecasts, for better or for worse, go on way too long. But, so does hanging out with one’s friends. At some point, you want to be by yourself or hang out with someone else. With the advent of the spreecast you can hang out with people you know or don’t know or want to know simply by joining in. It’s the logic of the club but not as restrictive. Of course, hanging out on spreecasts may never beat the intimacy of being in the same room with a friend or a loved one or turning it all off and reading a book. But I’ve known a lot of people who got all the companionship they needed by simply watching episodes of Breaking Bad or whatever–and apparently, according to some, you can be plugged in and still experience solitude.
This isn’t a plug for spreecast, who I could give two fucks about. It is a plug for a kind of art that denies the art market and realizes itself in everyday life. One doesn’t need an important architectural group, a big publisher, and a major museum to support an effort to follow and document people in your neighbor (although Acconci had all of those). One does need ideas. I was talking to Elizabeth Emily D’Agostino in her car about art. We were parked outside my apartment–a perfect venue to discuss anything. Our conversation shifted to cultural amnesia, an easy target. In our desperate efforts to predict the future I described for her a story written by Tao Lin and boldly proclaimed that this was Lin’s crowning moment and that history would look at this moment as an opportunity lost. The story is simple enough:
when i was five
i went fishing with my family
my dad caught a turtle
my mom caught a snapper
my brother caught a crab
i caught a whale
that night we ate crab
the next night we ate turtle
the next night we ate snapper
the next night we ate whale [. . .]
The last line of the story is repeated almost endlessly or as long as the writer/reader can endure it. Although, I have read a version of it where it ends rather abruptly. For a video account of its hilarity, you can listen to Tao read it here.
Why an opportunity lost? Because when an artist with the talent of Tao Lin comes along he seems to come with a two-pronged fork capable of reflecting the zeigeist back to us and/or breaking the hold the zeigeist has on our attitudes, desires, fashions, discourses, etc. In the post-Warholian world in which we live contemporary artists have made it clear that they are more interested in and perhaps more capable of showing us who they are (i.e. reflecting the ‘zeigeist’ back to us) than breaking the mirrors that bind us to a social-medial and political-economic worldview that reinforces the notion that ‘we’re fucked.’
We are fucked. In Sheila Heti’s novel, How Should a Person Be?, someone comes up with an idea for an ugly painting competition. I say ‘someone’ because not even Sheila, our narrator, knows who came up with the idea. The idea of making the ugliest painting is more difficult than you’d think. Relationships are ended, lives are changed. During the height of the national crisis that was punk rock in England in the 1970s, a roadie for The Who dismissed the movement as a mere ‘revolt of the uglies.’ I mean, imagine calling a bunch of teenagers parading their misfortunes, economic hardships, childhood traumas, bad skin, social awkwardnesses, and fashion made of actual garbage found in the street as revolting or, worse, ugly? It is with these two sentiments in mind–a conceptual call to ugliness in the name of something else (Heti) and its celebration as an insult (punks)–that I invoke the writers and artists of the alt lit movement, a movement that has come to signify everything that’s right and wrong about everything that’s fast, cheap, and out-of-control in the arts today. Perhaps the time has come to break the mirrors that bind us to our own little personal victories (i.e. ‘I’m internet famous’) and begin the more fun and difficult work of smashing those fucking mirrors so that we–and the big, bad world–may see ourselves again, as something else, something more, something seemingly uglier and thus, perhaps, more beautiful. Of course, you could choose to ignore me (I’m used to it, really)–your career path probably profiting more from it–than listen to me whisper to you, from the salted peanut gallery.
Poetry readings suck. They are exercises in the worst kind of narcissism: the narcissism of a bad actor. There is nothing worse than having to endure two hours of bullshit from people you don’t even like. If you attend poetry readings regularly, then you are probably a wanna-be poet. And if you behave yourself at such readings, then you are definitely a loser. If you want to get a poet’s attention, here’s a simple formula: attend a poetry reading, politely approach a poet, punch the poet in the mouth. Not only will you get the poet’s attention, you will have accomplished something that not even the poet you’ve come to see could have accomplished: the creation of an almost pure act of poetry.
Of course, you could also stay home and write poems. But that would require you to be comfortable with long periods of loneliness, anxiety associated with the feeling of missing something, and mostly heart-breakingly intense bouts of solitude. For those of you who can’t bear the responsibility of becoming a poet, you can continue to attend poetry readings and, after you leave, perform the ritual of bitching and complaining about how shitty they are–and how awful so-and-so’s stuff is–as you drive/are driven to the nearest Taco Bell or whatever.
I attend poetry readings very infrequently. And when I do I do it for two reasons: one, I have convinced myself beforehand that I will learn something about writing poetry (by attending and actually listening to the poets read stuff at the reading), and two, I believe I will discover something about the mystery of existence (I know, stupid romantic). Simply put: people, signs, architecture–lots of things–intrigue me. Especially super fucking weirdo, but seemingly simple, things. Like the poetry reading that took place in a car wash in Austin, Texas, last week. Below, I provide you with a scintilla of evidence that poetry readings don’t have to suck, that somewhere in the world poetry people are trying to do it right, attempting to make–in their very own uniquely foolhardy way–a little miracle (which, by the way, I have always associated with crime).
Michael Davidson (aka herocious) reports from Austin on the Sad Sad Sad Fest: A Car Wash Reading (first posted by Michael on Alt Lit Gossip):
“I tweet: I’m reading a tiny story aloud today at a car wash on MLK and Airport in Austin. Come say hi at 7pm :) I don’t tell anyone I work with about the event, not even to make small talk in the copy room.”
“At home I practice reading aloud the story I plan on sharing at the event. I delete words I don’t like, then I delete entire sentences I don’t like.”
“We discuss a meeting place. We decide on 21st and Guadalupe, the same corner with the Daniel Johnston alien frog.”
“Alicia Fyne, the event organizer, is in her car in the far left bay, just like she said she would be. There are people packed into her car.”
“We meet Alicia Fyne, Andrew Hilbert, Joseph Green, Cheryl Couture, No Glykon. There is beer. There are flasks of whiskey. In other bays at the car wash, people are washing their cars. A friend shows up: David Nguyen. Other people enter the far left bay, lean against the tiled walls, introduce themselves. It’s fun. No one gives a shit.”
“To hold a reading where you least expect it. To hold a reading where it doesn’t fit in. Behind me I hear people ordering from Popeye’s.”
The Sad Sad Sad Fest was the name given to Alicia Fyne’s monthly readings series wait . . . what? The writers reading at Sad Sad Sad Fest on November 7, 2013: Michael Davidson, Cheryl Couture, Andrew Hilbert, No Glykon, Joseph Green, and Alicia Fyne.
Note: This post will be part of a series called, “Making the Scene”. The series seeks to report on readings that happen in your neighborhood. If you’ve got something to report, hit me up.
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